I do love to read history told in an accurate and highly readable way, and that’s exactly what you get with British author, Thomas Harding. My son recommended his books to me and I have recently just loved two of them. The House by the Lake was a riveting story of the ‘Alexander Haus’, near Potsdam in Germany. Built by a Jewish family, it has had a remarkable history and Harding tells it in such a way that you are riveted throughout. The Jewish owners had to leave in a hurry before WWII, and during the war the house was lived in by a musical entrepreneur who kept ‘in’ with the Nazis. The next residents had to cope with the Berlin wall being built through their back yard, cutting the house off from the lake. When the wall came down, hippies lived in the house and it was actually scheduled for demolition when Harding decided to investigate because it had been built by his great-grandfather. His interest ‘saved’ the house and it was then declared a monument of historical importance. It is being renovated and is today a centre for education and reconciliation.
Harding attended, in London, the funeral of his uncle Hanns and was astonished to learn at that event that Hanns had been the man who had found and captured Rudolf Höss, the officer in charge of Auschwitz. This led him to investigate and his resulting book, Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz was another memorable read. Harding tells the stories of the two men’s lives in alternate chapters, until they come together at the end when Hanns Alexander tracks down the man who came up with the idea of gassing Jews so that they could be killed more ‘efficiently’. He was the man who perfected Hitler’s programme of mass extermination. The book was moving, at times horrific, and an absolute page-turner. I learned a lot from it.
My next read will be Legacy: One Family, a Cup of Tea and the Company that Took on the World, also by Thomas Harding. This tells the history of the Lyons Corner Houses that became such a British institution. I’m looking forward to it.
Thank you, Thomas Harding, for teaching me so much and giving me so much recent reading pleasure.